Creativity and Making Art Today: Wisdom or Folly?

My newest piece for The OCH Literary Society.

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CREATIVITY AND MAKING ART TODAY: WISDOM OR FOLLY?

 

by Eleanor Parker Sapia

“It is very interesting that foolish people make the world what it is, and wise people have to live in it. Foolish people can create disasters, but they cannot endure them; wise people do not cause them, but they can endure them. One of the proofs of wisdom is the fact it can survive the shock and stress of change and the shock and stress of error. There is something immortal about wisdom because wisdom can live in an environment where stupidity cannot exist. Wisdom possesses a certain immortality. A wise person can live in a world as it is, regardless of what that world may be, regardless of the religions and philosophies, or absence of them, regardless of the intemperances and intolerances. That which is truly wise flows continuously and placidly on its way, unmoved in itself by any of the changes which affect and afflict that which is unwise.”

~ Manly P. Hall

These wise words by Canadian mystic and writer, Manly P. Hall, were posted by a Facebook friend last month. They still resonate with me and accurately describe where I hope to find myself as we inch closer to Donald Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States: wiser.

I was deeply affected by the Election Night results. Shock, dismay, and at times, disgust plagued me on November 9. In the days and weeks that followed, I truly wish I’d returned to working on my second novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, with new vigor, but that didn’t happen. The long periods of writing I’d enjoyed in the past weren’t possible. Instead, I was glued to on-line news and bought a newspaper every day. I didn’t go so far as to subscribe to cable television (which I’d given up in 2011,) or to the online version of the New York Times, but I was tempted. I felt distraught enough to consider asking a friend to hide my laptop charger so I couldn’t read another on-line article that I knew would anger me. I remained frustrated, unnerved, and frightened as the horrifying news finally came out of Aleppo and South Dakota.

Despite my humble attempts to decipher real news versus fake news in November and early December, I fell for a few headlines and felt my blood pressure rise upon discovering that I’d been duped. I wondered how many people had been duped during the campaign by fake news. I broke my time-honored “no-news” rule and kept reading, hoping to better understand people who’d voted for a man (and his Cabinet choices) who seems to stand for most everything I oppose. I prayed for an end to war in Syria and that the pipeline protesters in South Dakota would win before winter. All that did was to fill my mind and heart with despair and confusion, and everything I read fueled a growing feeling of guilt for not writing and a sense of the ridiculous when I did work on my novel.

In late November, the only answer for me was to practice self-care, which I did by binge-watching “Downton Abbey”, seasons 1-6. I watched the entire gorgeous series again, this time in four days. Don’t judge; I’d hoped the period series would take me back to a gentler, kinder, more innocent time. But of course, there wasn’t any truth in that. Each episode tackled some form of racism, hatred, misogyny, and classism in the turbulent times before and after WWI and WWII. So despite knowing how damaging it was for me to return to reading news articles, I felt the need to stay informed, voice my opinion and support where I could. I also needed to write, which I knew would ground me. For many creative folks, the internal creative push and pull of November seemed relentless. Some friends still find themselves creatively paralyzed.

Several times I sat at the writing desk, only to log off as my second book tackles deep, troubling issues facing women in 1920 Puerto Rico; unfortunately similar to what women today face around the world. I couldn’t focus. I turned to reading beloved books, taking afternoon naps, long walks with my dog, and kept busy by connecting with like-minded friends, but that was short-lived. We were going around in circles; not much help to each other, but we sure tried. And as soon as I logged back onto social media, there it was—the good, the bad and the ugly—right where I’d left it all.

When I did write, my words felt trite and after a good, long writing session, I’d feel guilty for not keeping up with the horrors of Aleppo and South Dakota. Then on November 28, something happened. I believe everything that happens to me and around me is useful for my creative life. What I am passionate about is making art and telling stories about uncovering truths, so I decided to use the disappointment, confusion, and fear to write. I owned my feelings of loss, rejection, and yes, anger, at the writing desk. I refused to get up. I reread and reconnected with my story; it worked. I sat with my young protagonist and she told me her tragic and troubling story. She’d faced the same feelings and emotions in her complicated world. I reentered her head, as broken and clueless as she, and moved about in her world, not sure where to turn next. We walked side by side, and wrote the next chapters together. I regained my creative strength, and love and courage for my characters. The words flowed.

My writing voice allows me to protest what happened to my character in 1920, and the act of writing brings a sense of control and meaning to my life, balance. I don’t know what will come after January 20, 2017. I pray for peace and a ceasefire in Aleppo, and I still worry that we are being duped about the Dakota pipeline. The pain and suffering in the world continues. We do what we can, we help wherever possible, and we are stretched beyond what is comfortable because that’s important, too. We can’t bury our heads in the sand to what is happening around us and far away from our homes.

Writers and artists must continue making art. Grab the hankies, your bullhorn, and use it all. Be bold, courageous, and use your art as a way to make sense of your world and that of others, who at this time might not be able to tell their stories.

About Eleanor:

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Puerto Rican-born Eleanor Parker Sapia is the author of the award-winning historical novel, A Decent Woman, published by Scarlet River Press. Her debut novel, set in turn of the century Ponce, Puerto Rico, garnered an Honorable Mention for Best Historical Fiction, English at the 2016 International Latino Book Awards with Latino Literacy Now, and was selected as a Book of the Month by Las Comadres and Friends National Latino Book Club in 2015. A writer, artist, and photographer, Eleanor is never without a pen and a notebook, and her passport and camera are always ready. Her awesome adult children are out in the world doing amazing things. Eleanor currently lives in Berkeley County, West Virginia, where she is working on her second historical novel, The Laments of Sister Maria Inmaculada, set in 1920 Puerto Rico.

Eleanor’s book: http://amzn.to/1X0qFvK
Please visit Eleanor at her website:
www.eleanorparkersapia.com

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Thoughts On Travel and Amsterdam

Eleanor Roosevelt quote

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

November 27, 2015

A mid-November telephone call from my son yielded a huge surprise: he’d booked an airline ticket for me and one for my daughter, who would join us in Amsterdam on Thanksgiving Day. I’d last visited Europe in 2013 with a two-week visit to Vienna, Austria with my best friend. I was anxious to pack my bags, and return to the continent where I’d spent thirteen years with my children, and to Amsterdam, where my son currently lives.

As my departure date approached, the excitement of seeing my son after six months was close to deliriously happy, but there was huge glitch: my son hadn’t known that my daughter’s passport had expired and although she’d applied for a renewed passport, it was possible it wouldn’t arrive in time for her departure…not good.

Days later, a Russian airliner was blown out of the sky, and shortly afterward, Paris was brutally attacked. Like most everyone I know, I was glued to the horrifying news and subsequent updates. Frantic, we contacted my son, hoping he hadn’t traveled to Paris during the attacks. He was home in Amsterdam. For days, we watched news broadcasts and breaking news, worried for all the victims and their families. We asked my son about Dutch television coverage, and what his Dutch friends were saying. He replied that from what he’d heard, Holland had done a good job integrating Muslims into society, and that ISIS probably didn’t have a beef with the very tolerant country. I was convinced and satisfied, but my daughter wasn’t as convinced.

When her passport didn’t arrive on my departure date (we were on separate flights, different airlines), we spoke about Plan B: rescheduling her ticket to the following weekend since I would still be in country. But it was a big gamble on top of the $400 fee to change the date on an already high cost ticket seemed too steep. After long talks, my daughter’s ticket was cancelled, which was a damn shame, but we knew my daughter was dreading the flight in light of bombings in Syria, Mali, Paris, and worldwide threats that week. No judgement on our part for her cancelling her ticket despite feeling badly about not spending Thanksgiving as a family in Amsterdam. I know she felt worse than we did about our first holiday apart. We would miss my daughter, and thankful she would spend the holiday with my sister and her family as we’d done since 2007 when we returned from Europe.

On my departure date, I won’t lie, I was scared spitless about the prospect of hanging around the Dulles Airport, waiting for my flight, and even more frightened of take off and landing in Frankfurt, and then again to Schipol Airport in Amsterdam. I said my prayers, wrote out my will–yes a will–and handed it to my sister as she parked at the Metro for me to start my journey to Dulles Airport. It was a hand-written will because my printer had conked out, and like I told my sister, “It’s better than nothing!’.

Well, going through security at Dulles is always challenge, and it was no different when I went through, and flying Lufthansa is always a dream. I sat with a British university student, a lovely Tunisian mother and her four children seated behind us, and a Sikh with blue eyes. A global aisle–beautiful.

All three airports were packed with passengers rushing to their flights and greeting their loved ones after collecting their baggage. Everything seemed ‘normal’ during my flights and when I saw my son after six months, my fear and anxiety disappeared. He was a sight for sore eyes and I know my trip meant a lot to him. I patted myself on the back for overcoming my own fear of flying and traveling during this troubling time, and I smiled inside: no way in hell anyone is keeping this mother from seeing her kids!

Amsterdam, always one of my favorite European cities, was much like I’d left it–a crowded, rush-rush, bicycle-crazy, a gorgeous canal city with friendly people, too much fried food, great beers and cheeses, loud tourists, and pungent-smelling coffee shops. Sipping a cappuccino at a charming outdoor cafe after our market run for the ingredients of our Thanksgiving meal, I smiled and turned my face to the sun. Pure bliss.

To date, my daughter’s passport has yet to arrive. That’s life. She even paid extra to expedite the passport; it just didn’t happen for us. Only God knows why. As for me, I can now picture my son’s new life in Amsterdam. In future emails when he says he went to the movies, I know where that theater is. I know which market he likes, and which market stand carries his favorite thing to order in a bakery–Ollieballen with powdered sugar. I’m happy I mustered all the necessary courage to fly. Will I muster the courage to travel to Brussels to visit with long-time friends and to visit Paris before I fly home, which I planned to do? No idea yet…

but for today, I thank lovely, peaceful, charming Amsterdam. Thank you for not changing too much since my last visit, and for offering us a safe place during a turbulent time.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving weekend.

Blessings.

About Eleanor Parker Sapia

 

elliePuerto Rican-born novelist, Eleanor Parker Sapia, was raised in the United States, Puerto Rico, and Europe. Eleanor’s careers as an artist, counselor, alternative health practitioner, Spanish language family support worker, and a refugee case worker inspire her stories. She is a member of Las Comadres Para Las Americas, PEN America, and Historical Novel Society. When Eleanor is not writing, she facilitates creativity groups, reads, and tells herself she is making plans to walk El Camino de Santiago de Compostela a second time.

A Decent Woman, Eleanor’s best selling debut historical novel, set in turn of the nineteenth century Puerto Rico, was selected as 2015 July Book of the Month for Las Comadres & Friends Latino Book Club. Book club members across the United States have enjoyed the story, as well. Eleanor is featured in the newly published anthology, Latino Authors and Their Muses, edited by Mayra Calvani. She is the mother of two awesome adult children and she currently lives in West Virginia, where she is writing her second novel, The Island of Goats.